Swords and Silver Boxes

woman-holding-silver-gift

“Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal.”

 – Proverbs 12:18, GNT –


This verse made me stop in my tracks this past week.

I have probably literally heard it my whole life. I should know this, right? 🙂

Recently, a friend shared with me the deep pain that several people’s random comments and inappropriate words caused her. It was just this past week, as I considered blogging on the power of words, that I realized the connection to this verse.

The Bible has plenty to say about how we speak. Be kind to one another. Build up. Don’t curse one another. Speak the truth in love.

We know this.

But this particular verse especially stood out to me because people I cared about were being knocked flat because of words that people didn’t even intend to be hurtful. I can’t judge hearts, but I know these fellow Christians most likely did not intend their speech to be so deadly. But it was.

What does the proverb say again?

“Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword….”

The verse doesn’t say “evil words.” It doesn’t say “malicious” or even “premeditated words.”

Thoughtless.

The reality of life is that you and I could walk into the world today and just blurt out something…and it could absolutely destroy someone.

Don’t get me wrong–people have choices about how they respond to wrong words. But God doesn’t expect us to blame our carelessness on the wounded. He places the responsibility of love directly the speaker.

Thoughtless words.

How many times a day do I carelessly throw out sentences? Many times in the last few weeks, I’ve become angry at the way other people fling thoughtless words at those I love. “That is SO insensitive,” I’ve internally ranted. “How can they not see how wrong that is?”

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love to talk will have to eat their own words.” – Proverbs 18:21, GW

Recently, someone I dearly love and respect excused his quick, thoughtless words as “just his personality.” He stopped and thought something like, “I wonder if I should say that?” And then he verbally announced his mental process and proceeded to speak his mind anyway. He knew better. But, because he identified as a blunt person, he thought that gave him liberty to say what he was thinking in that situation. I wonder, if he knew what his words might have cost, if he would think his liberty was worth that much.

I’m not advocating over-sensitivity or timidity when it comes to conversing with others. But we should certainly strive toward more compassion and less haste, more tactfulness and less impulsiveness. More Christ-likeness and less me-likeness. This verse about thoughtless words compels me to examine my communication and pray for grace to enrich lives rather than reduce them to dust.

Ladies, we especially have power to build or destroy with our words. Proverbs contains several laments of men who would have preferred to camp out on the edge of their roof than be in the same house as a cantankerous girl. Our gender, famous for using countless thousands of words each day, would do especially well to remember the harm that unthinking words can instigate.

Florence Littauer, a dear Christian woman, wrote a book called Silver Boxes. In it, she recounts the story of a little girl who compared giving encouraging words to giving someone a silver-wrapped gift.

What a piercing thought.

Our words can be silver-cased swords, ready to cut to the quick…

Or they can be silver-wrapped boxes, filled with delight.

Practically, what kind of words come as silver-crusted daggers? While I’m sure situations vary greatly, here are a few examples of insensitive ones: physical appearance, mental or physical ability, psychological labels (even as a joke), misunderstood teasing, reminding people of past mistakes or sins, untempered criticism, or any words that belittle or discourage.

Whew. Not a fun list.

If those are the kinds of words to shun, what can we put on instead? I know, in my family, much of the above list is absolutely taboo.  We’re not particularly noble –- my brother and I were just never allowed to use them!

For me, then, my biggest challenge is the handoff between silver swords and silver boxes. Honestly, when I examine myself, I see more sins of omission in the area of words.

While I definitely say wrong things, mostly I don’t say enough right things.

“Pleasing words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and invigorating to the bones,” says Proverbs 16:24, NABRE.

What can you say? How about one of these: I’m proud of you. I really respect/appreciate you. Wow, look at what God has done in your life! Hey, how can I pray for you today? I love you. I am really glad you are in my life. What a good Father we have! I know He has this situation under control, even if we don’t understand. 

I told you at the beginning of this post that a friend of mine has been suffering from thoughtless words. What did these words do? They made a Christian girl have to work twice as hard to fight lies, because other people were unwittingly joining the chorus of temptations she already faced. They struck her with pain, because people she loved were using their words like knives. Unknown to those around her, they were actually siding with the devil, helping him tear down a soul. What a horrible thought!

And there I was on the other end of the spectrum. I was the one hearing the effects of these hurtful words and praying for words to pick up the pieces.

I get frustrated, because sometimes it seems to take 10 encouraging words to undo 1 hurtful word. But with this friend and with others, I now more clearly see the battlefield of communication. From time to time, God puts me on the front lines and gives me the gift of speaking truth into a hurting heart. He asks me to give out silver boxes.

If you think words can kill, you’re right.

But wait until God uses your words to bring life to dull eyes. This is real living, my friends. And I don’t dive into this abundant life nearly enough.

It is a battle. If you engage with encouragement, you are going to see some amazing things happen.

God gave us the gift of words. With the forgiveness and love of Jesus as our motivation and the grace of our Lord as our power, let’s make a choice to craft our silver into gift boxes of encouragement, not slicing swords.

Words are pretty powerful stuff. Whose life can you build up today?


“So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.”

 – 1 Thessalonions 5:11, CEB –

 

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The Paradox of the Holy Fire

fyre-element 2

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.  All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them.”
– Matthew 16:24-25, CEB –

We’ve talked about Love.

A language, a gift, a labor of prayer, a tree, a song.

For me, this Practical Love Series has impacted me in an unexpected way…


Love has grown from “practical” to Immense.

I can’t pretend I’m an extremely loving person anymore, because I’ve grasped a little more of Extreme Love. Seeing this, seeing Him, I feel no closer to application. I feel like I’ve stumbled into a Magnificent presence, and all I can do is empty compared to His fullness.

I’ve tried to figure out how I can practice Love.

But each day, I wake up on auto-pilot and my own gratification seems to be the destination.

I’ve gotten to Step A: I am not a very loving person.

Even Step B: There’s no way I can love the way I’m commanded to, on my own power.

But where do you and I go from there?

Let’s stop pretending.

People are NOT easy to love. People can be nasty, annoying, selfish, tactless, offensive, apathetic, distant, unjust. Frankly, pretty rotten.

BUT…Sisters, this practice of Love stopped being about “those people” a long time ago.

The problem is not Out There.

It is In Here.

Something inside me has gone desperately wrong and I cannot patch it up on my own.

Love is not a matter of getting everyone else fixed so I can stand being with them.

Love is very much like lighting a bonfire. The light gives–it must, by its nature. Love does not depend on how its object receives it, just as light shines on all around it. Some things reflect back the light; some only absorb it.

But to possess this fire, something in me must burn.

On cricket-creaking nights, I’ve sat by a campfire and seen dull, dry wood kindled. The fire animates it, a resurrection in miniature. And soon what was dead crackles with life–potent orange-blue flickers of heat and light.

And yet, though now alive in a way those branches never could have been on their own, they are being consumed. Living, they die.

In this same way, sin’s entrance into the world abruptly halted the previously unbroken exchange of Love, Creator to creature.Yes, in me, in all of us, something careened off the track. Our taste for good turned sour.

Love became a light that we blind men could not even see.

Now, Love’s restoration requires death. Jesus alone could bridge Love and unloving, or open eyes so the light could come. He, as Love Himself, defined history with the ultimate act of love: His own death.

Love dies.

I shrink from this. It sounds so final, so painful, so awful. Because I don’t want to die. My will doesn’t want to die. I like maintaining my own way, following my own road, chasing my own dreams.

To love, though, I must first die.

It was that way at the beginning, when I first began to breathe resurrection air. Dead in sin, He raised me up. The dry branch was hit with a spark of living fire.

That Spark in me began a cycle of flame that both enlivens me and kills me. It turns deadness into sparkles of flaming glory, but at the same time, it burns away part of me.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S.Lewis talks about the sanctification of the believer:

“The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Fire-starting is a radical thing. At the outset of our faith, we committed ourselves to unabashed following. What many people do not realize is that this commitment does not keep our hearts focused. We have to re-commit each day.

Each day, we must again die–every minute, if necessary. “Oh Jesus, take my life and let it be Yours, forever. Set my feet on Your path and not mine.”

The flesh that battles in us must be battled with this Holy Fire of Love until Jesus comes back to complete our transformation.

Until then, as long as we keep fighting with the power of God, life will be springing up in the ashes where the fire has scorched our sin nature.

Only as we give ourselves to flames can our light begin to shine.

Our parasitic sinful self, as it dies, makes room for our new self to flourish, a fire-brushed masterpiece of the Creator God.

Only then can we get down to the business of Love, as a practical thing.

Dying, we live.


 Join me next week as I launch a Grand Love Experiment! I don’t promise a burst of genius, but I do think it could be revolutionary for my life, at least.

It is simple, but not easy. It is achievable–but not without Jesus at my side. Will you come along?


 “Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.”

― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity ―

 

 

 

Costly Song

old-cassette

 “Love hurts when it changes us.”

― Toba Beta ―


This is Part Five of my Practical Love Series! If you missed the other posts, be sure to go back and check them out! You can find the most recent post From the Roots of Grace here.


I can tell you what Love feels like, what it sometimes does, but writing to you about Love is like trying to capture the sun in a bottle or fit the ocean in a teacup.

I do know something about Love–it is a song, a costly song.

A rock band once wrote a song about their view of love:

“Love hurts, love scars, love wounds
And mars, any heart
Not tough or strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud
Holds a lot of rain
Love hurts……ooh, ooh love hurts
I’m young, I know, but even so
I know a thing or two
And I learned from you
I really learned a lot, really learned a lot
Love is like a flame
It burns you when it’s hot
Love hurts……ooh, ooh love hurts”

These writers came to a conclusion: that Love is a lie. But as much as Love has the power to hurt, its song is much more complex. Love is not a lie–because God cannot lie. In my life, I look around–and I hear it, hear the Love rising. It is more true than they knew.

Mr. Rick goes to  my church. He spent last year watching his father die. Convenience, beloved friends, freedom–this man gave all of these up to care for his father through the last days of his cancer. One Sunday, Mr. Rick described to the congregation the terrible thing it is to watch someone you love waste away. His father was a burly man, one of those people who never get sick. Until the years wore thin and his body began to break. Mr. Rick told us of his shock to see that even his father was vulnerable to the death of this sin-cursed place. By traveling with his father to the end, Mr. Rick learned about death. But I learned a different lesson: I learned about the love a son had for his father. Mr. Rick’s lament rang silver-edged with glory, the touch of God’s love.

Mrs. Kathy is a friend, far away. She too, has taught me the song of Love. Cancer invaded her life too, already stolen away her mother and a sister. Now, another sister lies as the disease eats away at her brittle bones. People call such things tragedies, and I suppose it is. But in the face of death and decay and the gray places of the world a song peals out still–the flagrant tune of Love that conquers. Mrs. Kathy knows the song, as she and her grown-up kids take turns driving 2 hours every day to take her sister to the cancer center for treatment. They play music and talk and pray and shower the love of God on a wearing-out body, trusting in Christ alone for the reward of their labor. For Love is a hard, hard song to sing.

My Dad taught me a few bars of the Love song. A few weeks ago, he packed up and traveled over state lines to visit an aging relative. This relative, kind as she is, wants little to do with him. Phone calls are tolerated. Meetings over breakfast–sometimes. But actual interaction? She has no interest. In spite of her, my dad went to visit. Rumors had drifted in that her house was a wreck. We heard little of the next few days, but later learned that my dad had spent hours scrubbing a home that had not been cleaned for years. The hair of seven indoor cats, along with the stinging smell of ammonia from months of used litter and a collection of garage sale finds–all these things my dad reported to us in understatement. But we knew. We knew when he came home rasping, almost voiceless from the vapors he had inhaled over the past days. What is Love, if not this?

Love is starting to scare me. It’s no longer a matter of clean words and sanitary deeds and primly-dressed intentions.  Love is curiously messy and crazily involved. It is painful and unclear and full of sleepless nights and congested days.

Jesus set an example of Love for us–forgiveness for the traitor, patience for the clueless, tenderness in the pain, unending.

I am frightened. I am supposed to be an adult. But here I am, writing about Love, hearing its song all around me.

And I feel like a child, unable to walk.

Love.

It is the basic Christian virtue–“the greatest of these,” the quality that God claims as one of His names. And I can’t even take a step.

Love’s song should be as basic as humming a few bars of “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” a Christianity 101 of sorts. But I’ve suddenly lost my voice.

These examples–the grown-up people, the true adults in my life–prove to me that the song of Love is not forgotten, and that God’s children can learn its melody.

But they’re playing Beethoven when all I can find is middle C. I know right now that I am not enough. I am incapable of Love–at least, on my own.

But if Love Himself has made my dead heart pound to life, I think He can teach numb lips a new song.

I don’t think I’ll get all the words the first time. I expect some of the lyrics to hurt like a knife to the soul. I think I’ll sing a little flat sometimes. But you’ve never heard a symphony until you’ve heard the sound of Love. Minors of pain, trills of joy–all God’s notes, every one of them.

I’m not so scared after all.

This song….

It’s hard, way harder than I knew.

It’s painful, because every note points to the rebirth of the world ahead, when my Jesus makes all things new.

It’s costly, because in order to sing it right, you have to die.

But don’t worry. Love is worth it.

He always is.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

– Romans 5:1-5 –


Have you heard the melody?

Comment below and share how God’s love has been poured out through your friends and family!


 

 

 

What If?

path-across-the-bridge

“I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything
Instead of going through the motions?”

– Matthew West, from “Motions” –

Funerals aren’t so bad.

Well, some.

All the ones before today were tolerable. A few tears, a heart-wondering at how a body can just be empty of soul. How can aliveness be suddenly gone?

But the ponderings go heavenward and turn sweet at the edges, the after-glow of the sun setting soft on skin.

And it’s not so hard to remember that there’s an eternity and God is there too, holding and communing with living souls. Souls in worship, in delight far beyond ours. Far past our ant-like perspective, finally seeing the big-picture of all that was suffered and blessed and made whole in this thread that is earth-life.

But today was not one of those not-so-bad funerals.

It was a heart-scarring that happens when people who don’t know God are snatched away and the lost-too family is left groping. And I don’t have the words to comfort.

Some, like the preacher at the front, pray that the family will be comfortable.

Meanwhile, in the back, one face in a sea of them, I stand with eyes closed to the beaming-down sun and pray that God will let His own Son’s beams come down. To first make them uncomfortable—that the comfort won’t be a Band-aid on the broken pieces, but will be a contrite spirit that leads them to the only Source of comfort.

I hear the obituary—of hobbies and games and quirks and little “white” sins that are supposed to be funny.

Oh, how sad to be remembered as a game player.

How desolate, to be held in memory as a cheat.

What life-poverty, to be only recalled as ornery, one who can talk her way out of trouble.

What then, will be said of me after I take that last breath?

On my deathbed, I don’t want to have to wonder if I made a difference.

Like Matthew West’s song:

“I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking

What if I had given everything…?”

What if?

Life will have questions, regrets. All of us that are human, besides Jesus Himself, will have regrets. We’ll wish something had been different.

Some of us will regret time wasted on frivolity.

Others will be sorry that what we perceived as spiritual crowded out the “small things,” the little gifts of the heart, to the least of these.

To be sure, at the end, His glory shining in our eyes will make our failures fade. Glory, because Christ leads us to triumph at last.

Joy, because His grace covered so much.

But, oh, how much we will regret each stepping off the path. We will mourn each moment we were not perfectly yielded to His plan.

We will have rejoicing. Yet, when tried by fire, how many of our works will remain?

I will never believe that works get us into heaven.

That is Christ’s doing alone.

But the Bible is clear on this—God wants to reward us for obedience. How good is this, girls? To reward us for what we only accomplished in His strength!

Don’t feel guilty about thinking about rewards. In a lecture on stewardship, teacher Randy Alcorn agreed that asking for rewards would be wrong of us. However, for God to offer them—this is just another grace.

As Mr. Alcorn taught, what could be more amazing than a loving Father giving rewards to the undeserving? For Him to bridge the gap and then to keep on bridging, for Him to pick us up and then be the One to keep carrying us all the way home—does this bend you to your knees?

A Parent giving a Christmas present to the child who couldn’t even stay good one day, much less all year. A Parent who knows the child deserves coal, but instead showers him with gifts, because He is good. Because He can. Because He loves.

What kind of love would do that?

The kind of Love that died, but couldn’t be kept down.

The kind of Love that is able to keep you from falling.

The kind of Love that will fill you if you will bow to Him.

How much are you willing to give?

How much joy do you want to give Him, of how great a reward He gets to give the child He ransomed?

Will you surrender?

Or, at the end of this vapor-life, will you have to wonder?

“What if?”

“What if I had given Him all of me?”

 “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

– Matthew 16:25, NIV –

Thanks to George Hodan and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

Growing-Up Grace

“We are puzzled and bewildered whenever we see suffering in this world….

Amazing grace is no longer amazing to us.”

— R.C. Sproul —

dark-sky

Is it growing up to suddenly carry the hurt? Growing pain to suddenly begin knowing the pain? Does being an adult mean that I lose the mercifully given dream-glaze of childhood?

And why does it feel like this growing-upness has settled down thick on my soul?

Why is it that never before has the burden been so suffocating?

My strong-enough, wide-enough capabilities are now like narrow, powerless shoulders under a crushing yoke.

And yet I breathe. Oxygen sucks in bitter-sweet. Why can I still breathe in this pain-smoke that is smothering those to whom my heart clings, every brother and sister of them? How can the pain reach and wrench without laying even one cold, numb talon on me?

Is it growing up to suddenly feel the travail, to sense the birth-pangs that writhe this world?

How can I rejoice in Life when darkness is all I see?

By all means, I should praise God for the sunshine.

What if there isn’t any?

“Any man can sing in the day. When the cup is full, man draws inspiration from it…he is skillful who sings when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from his heart…O Thou chief musician, let us not remain songless because affliction is upon us, but tune Thou our lips the melody of thanksgiving.”

– Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Oct. 19th, Evening –

And yet, my throat burns songless. How can I sing past the ache-knot?

Today a friend calls and says it is good new and bad news. My heart immediately stills, that heart drop-out that shoots up a prayer without words. O God, help me know what to say. Help her. Help us breathe.

She says it’s not her, it’s a friend. A tumor, she says. A word shapes in my head—cancer. I wish with a numb heart that it’s not so.

I lay on the couch, phone cradled to my chin, held close as I wish I could hold my friend. A wish to tell her its okay, it will all be fine.

She pours out the story, of all the pain she’s surrounded with. She’s drowning in it—the frustration of why. Why my friends? Why now? Why all at once?

God, why?

And then my sweet friend confesses she’s tired of praying? Is it, after all, doing any good?

So I push away my own sense of all the world-crumblings near and clench my heart around her words. She’s weary in the battle.

So I’ll go in for her. O God, hear me.

She’s panting, aching for friends’ pain that she can’t push prayers through.

Hold on, I want to say. He’s there. Just keep praying.

The line soon clicked empty and as I returned the phone to its charger I knew I couldn’t solve her pain.

But I could pray. I remembered lines that could keep me breathing in and out. Ann Voskamp, in her poetic, arresting voice, wrote about her hope, and now I mull over it again:

“I wonder too…if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.

To see through to God.

That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave.”

– Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p. 22 –

In her blog, this dear sister wrote,

“Grace is not soft or trite—Grace is what saves and grace is what transforms. Grace isn’t the weakness of a Christian—grace is the completeness of a Christian. Grace isn’t ever a paltry thing—Grace is always the very power of God….The power of God to save and to stand, to give and forgive, to breathe and believe, to laugh and love and wring the last little bit of living out of all the days under the sky. Grace is what we need more than the very air or water; grace is what is necessary for life: it’s His very grace that needs to be sufficient today, it is His very grace that makes today sustainable.”

We have our hands on something that can rock a moaning world. We have to believe it. We have to possess it. We have to live it.

And then, we give it away. Think this, sisters: We were not meant to hoard grace.

“All the paths of the Lord are loving and faithful” (Psalm 25:10). I have pondered this verse lately and have found that it feeds my spirit. All does not mean “all—except the paths I am walking in now,” or “nearly all—except this especially difficult and painful path.” All must mean all. So your path with its unexplained sorrow or turmoil, and mine with its sharp flints and briers—and both our paths, with their unexplained perplexity, their sheer mystery—they are His paths, on which he will show himself loving and faithful. Nothing else; nothing less.”

– Amy Carmichael –

I’m not sure why I didn’t see it before, in John 11. Martha, grieving, devoted Martha, trusts Jesus through that body and soul-tearing event called death that snatched her brother away. Can you hear her hoarse, trusting whisper?

“Even now I know that whatever you ask your Father he will give it to you.”

What I so often gloss over, miss in the pace of reading and living, is the glory of the next words.

Martha says, “I know he will be raised in the resurrection in the last day.”

But then, glorious consummation of thousands of years of hope and longing and death-cries—Jesus must have looked at her with a beautiful Kingliness in His eyes.

“I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

My soul, why do you ever stop wondering? Not wallowing in the death, but wondering in the Life? Why do you ever tire of hearing and glorying in this?

My Savior IS Life. I don’t have to fear anything. I don’t have to  hesitate when He calls, wonder when He speaks.

In His Life, I have life.

“What grace is mine that He who dwells in endless light
Called through the night to find my distant soul
And from his scars poured mercy that would plead for me
That I might live and in his name be known

What grace is mine to know His breath alive in me
Beneath his wings my wakened soul may soar
All fear can flee for death’s dark night is overcome
My Saviour lives and reigns forevermore

So I will go wherever He is calling me
I lose my life to find my life in Him
I give my all to gain the hope that never dies
I bow my heart, take up my cross and follow Him.”

– “What Grace Is Mine,” by Keith and Kristyn Getty –

Let us press on in the dark, because the night is far spent, and the day is at hand. The Light has arisen in our hearts.

We aren’t meant to be the victims of cruel fate. We are meant to shine in darkness, to keep emitting the light of grace.

Because His Grace is ours for living.

“Shouldn’t we suppose that many of our most painful ordeals will look quite different a million years from now, as we recall them on the New Earth? What if one day we discover that God has wasted nothing in our life on Earth? What if we see that every agony was part of giving birth to an eternal joy?”

— Randy Alcorn —

With always-love, Shelbie